A clean energy system is foundational to ensuring a just transition to carbon neutrality and to creating a fairer and healthier city. New York City has committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. To meet that goal, we will transform our fossil fuel dependent electricity grid into one powered 100% by zero-emissions resources by 2040. Our clean electricity grid must be resilient to the impacts of climate change while affordable for all New Yorkers.
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New York has a long history of energy leadership, dating back to the establishment of Edison Illuminating Company's Pearl Street Station, the first commercial electric power plant in the United States, in 1882. Just a few years later, the world's largest hydroelectric plant at the time was completed at Niagara Falls. Today, New York gets its power from hundreds of fossil-fueled power plants and hydroelectric facilities, a handful of nuclear plants, and, increasingly, solar and wind installations. Facing a continued heavy reliance on fossil fuels, high energy costs, and the intensifying impacts of climate change, NYC is taking bold action to achieve a just transition to a clean, affordable, and resilient energy system.
Reliance on fossil fuels
NYC's electricity today is mostly generated by burning fossil fuels, representing about a quarter of the city's total greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). By the end of 2021, we expect our local electric grid to be approximately 85% powered by fossil-fuels. This contrasts greatly from the upstate grid, where clean sources make up 88% of the electricity supply. Currently, there are not sufficient transmission lines to bring this clean power to NYC.
As a result, only about half of NYC's electricity is brought in from outside the city; the rest must be produced within the five boroughs. NYC relies on 24 in-city power plants that run on natural gas and/or fuel oil. Most of these plants were built decades ago and 70% are over 50 years old. In addition to releasing GHGs that contribute to climate change, these plants release air pollutants that cause air quality and health issues for NYC communities. Replacing these plants with renewable energy resources in a way that is reliable and affordable is a top priority for our clean energy transition.
In the future, demand for electricity may increase as people switch to electric vehicles and replace old-fashioned heating systems with electric heat pumps. A clean and resilient grid will therefore become even more central to our path to carbon neutrality and a healthier city.
High energy costs
Today, too many New Yorkers are struggling to pay their energy bills due to the high cost of electricity in NYC. When a family pays more than 6% of their income on energy bills, they are considered "energy-cost burdened." In 2019, approximately 600,000 families in NYC–amounting to over 1.5 million residents–were energy-cost burdened.
Reaching our climate goals will require many buildings to switch their heating and hot water systems from fossil fuels to clean electricity. It is imperative that this transition be planned appropriately so as to ensure it is affordable for all New Yorkers.
Impacts of climate change
New Yorkers are already feeling the impacts of climate change. According to the New York City Panel on Climate Change, the average maximum summer temperature has risen between 2.5°F and 3.5°F since 1970, and prolonged heat waves are becoming more common. New Yorkers are experiencing more frequent storm events and heavier downpours. Sea levels at the Battery have already risen more than 18 inches since 1850.
Our energy system is vulnerable to these changes. For example, high winds during coastal storms can knock down overhead wires, and heat waves can cause electrical equipment failure. Rising seas can damage equipment located close to the waterfront if not flood protected. NYC's clean energy system must be designed for reliability and resiliency in the face of these increasing climate impacts.
All New Yorkers will take part in our energy transition – residents, community-based organizations, the private sector, and local, state and federal governments. The transition must prioritize health and community benefits, particularly in Environmental Justice communities, and ensure energy is affordable for all New Yorkers. Buildings and infrastructure must reduce energy consumption and transition away from burning fossil fuels on-site. The City must accelerate a 100% clean NYC grid by maximizing renewables in the city and increasing transmission from clean resources outside the city, while preparing for the impacts of climate change. City government has an opportunity to lead by example by pursuing energy efficiency and sustainable energy solutions on City-owned property. Finally, the City must actively participate in New York State's climate initiatives and advocate for State support for our just transition in NYC.
Ensure affordable energy access for all
The City has been a strong advocate for low-income utility customers. Since 2019, we have successfully petitioned the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) to expand access to the low-income program, limit utility service terminations, create an emergency COVID relief subsidy, and make it easier for customers to resolve issues relating to unpaid bills. More recently, the City petitioned for more utility bill discounts for low-income customers; this proceeding is still ongoing.
Reduce energy consumption
To meet our climate goals, we must collectively reduce the amount of energy we use in our homes and businesses by modernizing our buildings. Investing in energy efficiency where we live and work can also make indoor spaces more comfortable and improve local air quality. Local Law 97 of 2019, the cornerstone of the Climate Mobilization Act, requires buildings larger than 25,000 square feet to meet strict greenhouse gas emissions limits starting in 2024. These limits decrease over time to keep the city's building sector on track to meet our carbon reduction goals. Buildings can reduce their energy use–and simultaneously, their GHG footprint–by modernizing heating and cooling systems, switching to LED lighting, and installing efficient appliances. Learn more about NYC's efforts to modernize our building energy systems through the NYC Accelerator program.
Accelerate a 100% clean NYC electricity grid
NYC uses about the same amount of electricity as the entire state of Massachusetts, but has only 1/35 the space! There is simply not enough room to generate all the clean energy we need relying only on space within the crowded five boroughs. On average, NYC uses 8,000 megawatts of power. In the summer, as New Yorkers turn on their air conditioners, citywide demand can increase to as much as 11,500 megawatts. To meet our 100% clean energy goal while satisfying NYC's electricity demands, we will need to build new transmission lines to bring clean energy into NYC.
New York State is building 9,000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2035 and the City is pushing to connect it directly to NYC. In addition to greening the grid, the offshore wind industry can bring thousands of new jobs to NYC and help revitalize our working waterfronts–like the efforts currently underway to transform the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal into an offshore wind staging site.
Unlike intermittent renewables that only produce power when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing, hydropower is always on, making it a highly controllable, reliable clean energy resource. Our strategy will tap into existing hydropower resources without leading to the construction of any new dams, all while protecting the rights of indigenous First Nations.
Solar panels allow buildings to generate their own emissions-free electricity and saves residents money by reducing how much electricity they need to buy from their utility. Community solar allows residents who are unable to put solar on their own roofs to subscribe to a large solar installation located elsewhere in NYC and get a corresponding discount on their energy bill. NYC is targeting 1,000 megawatts of solar citywide by 2030, enough to power 250,000 homes. As of early 2021, 265 megawatts have already been installed, a seven-fold increase since 2013.
Energy storage makes clean energy resources more dependable: it can store extra electricity produced when the wind is blowing hardest, or when the sun is brightest, and save it to be used later when the weather changes or the sun goes down. Energy storage can reduce the use of in-city power plants, lowering GHG emissions and improving local air quality while providing resiliency benefits. If there is a broader grid outage, storage can also provide back-up power to key services, homes and businesses. NYC is targeting 500 megawatts of energy storage installed citywide by 2025, and is working hard to streamline permitting processes to facilitate the safe and rapid deployment of energy storage citywide.
Prepare for the impacts of climate change
Since Hurricane Sandy, the City has strongly advocated for our energy systems to be built to withstand the increasing impacts of climate change, even as we move toward carbon neutrality. The City has driven climate change planning efforts at our electric utilities (Con Edison and the Long Island Power Authority), our gas utilities (Con Edison and National Grid), and our grid operator (the New York Independent System Operator, or the NYISO). Due to our efforts, Con Edison invested $1 billion in post-Sandy storm hardening improvements and conducted a comprehensive study to better understand how climate change will impact its electric infrastructure including what can be done to minimize these impacts. The NYISO is also conducting studies to better understand how climate change will impact the State's power grid, as well as how the transition to renewables like wind and solar will change the way our energy system functions.
To prepare for climate impacts like more extreme weather, NYC has pioneered the Climate Resiliency Design Guidelines. These Guidelines provide step-by-step instructions for engineers, architects, and designers to incorporate projections of future climate conditions into their building and infrastructure designs, in order to make them more resilient. Starting in 2021, the City will embark on a 5-year pilot program to test the Guidelines on NYC capital projects, culminating with a mandatory requirement to incorporate stringent resiliency design standards into all City capital projects.
Lead by example on City-owned property
New York City government is the largest landowner in NYC, with thousands of buildings and land parcels across the five boroughs, including schools, public housing, and administrative buildings. City government has the opportunity and responsibility to lead the decarbonization charge and support the growing clean energy market by pursuing energy efficiency and sustainable energy solutions on City property.
The Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) is committed to installing 100 megawatts of rooftop solar on City-owned buildings by 2025 and achieving a 50% reduction of GHG emissions from City-owned buildings and operations by 2030 (compared to 2005 levels).
Learn more about DCAS's efforts to shrink City government's GHG footprint
The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), the largest public housing authority in North America, has committed to install 25 megawatts of renewable energy capacity by 2025, and to reduce the energy intensity of its portfolio by 20% by the same year.
Download NYCHA's Sustainability Agenda
The NYC Department of Education (DOE) is making the country's largest public school district eco-friendly and efficient while inspiring students, teachers, parents, and school communities to take part in sustainability-focused programs. DOE has already installed solar panels on the roofs of over 50 school buildings, with another 200 solar projects slated for completion over the next few years.
Read a case study on DOE's efforts
The NYC Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is reducing its GHG emissions by installing nearly 10 megawatts of solar and 7 megawatts of hydropower in the coming years; by implementing energy efficiency and water conservation measures; and by powering its wastewater resource recovery facilities with renewable biogas. Each day, DEP diverts up to 250 tons of NYC's food waste from landfills and converts it into renewable biogas, significantly reducing GHG emissions while advancing the City's zero waste goals.
Learn more about DEP's efforts
Participate in New York State's climate initiatives
New York State is taking ambitious action on climate; the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act of 2019 (CLCPA) represents one of the most aggressive clean energy legislation in the country.
Learn more about the City's involvement in CLCPA proceedings
The City is also actively involved in important proceedings at the State's Department of Public Service (DPS), which regulates energy utilities to ensure affordable, safe, and reliable service while supporting the State's climate goals. DPS regulations impact the way energy is generated, and delivered, and paid for. The City advocates on behalf of NYC residents for affordable energy rates, safe utility service, and cost-effective utility investments in a clean energy transition.
Further, the City is deeply involved as a stakeholder at the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO), the organization charged with reliably operating New York State's power grid. The NYISO oversees transmission and provides the market platform for generators to sell electricity to utilities and consumers. At the NYISO, the City advocates for new transmission projects and market design changes that will expedite the transition to clean energy while ensuring reliability.